It's Only Natural

Nature Valley partners with NPCA to restore three parks.


By Scott Kirkwood


The word “granola” once simply described a snack of rolled oats, nuts, honey, and rice with the occasional raisin or chocolate chip thrown in to sweeten the pot. But in recent years it’s become an adjective to describe people who are a little obsessed with the great outdoors. So it should come as no surprise that a company that invented the granola bar would invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to help preserve our national parks.

In December, Nature Valley announced it would fund several key programs unfolding in national parks across the country, with the guidance and support of NPCA’s regional offices. This year, the division operated by General Mills will donate at least $250,000 to NPCA—10 cents for every specially marked granola bar wrapper sent to Nature Valley, one dollar for tickets sold to Kenney Chesney’s summer concert film via Fandango, and thousands of dollars generated by Facebook outreach. All told, the contribution could grow to $500,000.

”Because we have the word ‘nature’ in our name and we always feature wide-open vistas in our advertising, people tend to associate our brand with national parks, so it just made a lot of sense to partner with NPCA,” says Doug Martin, a spokesperson for Nature Valley. “In looking at specific projects, we wanted to pursue work that was integral to the parks themselves—the wildlife in Yellowstone, the impact of invasive species in Grand Canyon, and the coral reefs in Biscayne National Park. Our goal with this work is to set a foundation with NPCA and then build a long-term relationship that will remind people what Nature Valley stands for.” Read on to learn more about the specific projects…

Grand Canyon

For years, a thirsty plant called tamarisk (or salt cedar) has moved into streams and rivers throughout the Southwest and squeezed out native plants, and the Grand Canyon has been hit hard. The park has worked hard to remove the plant, but one treatment is rarely enough, so the new funding will help the park monitor key areas and remove more plants. In other areas, native plants like cliffrose, sage, and prickly pear cactus, which have suffered setbacks, will see a much-needed boost, as volunteers collect seed from healthy populations in the park, and deliver them to a nursery on the South Rim where they can be propagated until they’re ready to be planted at new sites.

“One of the bigger projects entailed moving a parking lot closer to the visitor center and planting native species in the previous spot near Mather Point,” says Kevin Dahl, program manager in NPCA’s Arizona field office. Normally the park would spend thousands of dollars to hire a landscaping company to do the work, but in this case volunteers are getting it done. Dahl was involved in the work himself, where he overheard a volunteer say, “One day, I’m going to be able to come here with friends and family and say, ‘See that tree—I planted that myself.’”

The program also entails the monitoring and restoration of endangered species like the sentry milk-vetch, which has been seriously affected by development catering to the thousands of tourist who arrive at the South Rim. Funds from Nature Valley will allow the Grand Canyon Association to fund a full-time park employee and a volunteer coordinator from the Student Conservation Association, and provide food, housing, and transportation costs through the summer and early fall.

Biscayne

On the other side of the country, the partnership will help fund another species in trouble—coral reefs in Biscayne National Park, which are suffering the effects of pollution, overfishing, boat groundings, climate change, and diseases that biologist don’t fully understand. .

“Biscayne’s coral reefs are a poster child for so many of these problems,” says Jason Bennis, marine program manager for NPCA’s SunCoast regional office. “There is no silver bullet, but the park has come up with an innovative program that allows volunteers and park staff to collect broken fragments of coral after a boat runs aground, and nurse them back to health so that can eventually be returned to the reef.” Given the glacial pace that coral grows, the program isn’t anything close to a quick fix, but the work is helping scientists at the University of Miami and other research institutions learn more about the species without removing healthy coral in the Caribbean.

Nature Valley’s funding is helping NPCA and the South Florida National Parks Trust fund the work of a park coordinator and an intern from SCA. The nursery also places a heavy emphasis on education: Divers can produce live underwater audio- and video feeds that allow them to communicate with classrooms and answer students’ questions immediately.

Yellowstone

In Montana, Nature Valley’s funding is helping NPCA restore an ancient migration corridor for pronghorn antelope, literally being fenced in by development. “Each year, pronghorn attempt to migrate north of Yellowstone to escape the heavy snows and gain access to grasses, but over the years their migration route has been impacted by development on private and public land, and much of that is related to fencing,” says Patricia Dowd, program manager in NPCA’s Yellowstone field office. “Pronghorn evolved to become one of the fastest land animals on the Earth—second only to cheetahs—but they never developed much of an ability to jump fences; ordinarily they’ll crawl underneath them. So barbed-wire fencing and buck-rail fencing pose problems—they’ll often get tangled up in the fencing and can’t escape.”

With the help of Nature Valley, Dowd brought on a one-year Yellowstone wildlife fellow who’s working with landowners, land managers, NPCA members, and community partners to remove fencing, raise the clearance so that pronghorn can go under fences and elk and deer can go over them, and replace barbed wire with smooth wire (at a cost of roughly $3,000 per mile). Just as important, the work itself is helping weave a web of cooperation among the land managers, a nonprofit, and private landowners, which should help wildlife conservation efforts in the region for decades to come.

Learn more at www.preservetheparks.com.

This article appears in the Summer 2010 issue.

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